Following a "tremendous" year of growth at Microsoft that was "fueled by our partners," the company is looking ahead to 2020 with an array of expanded and new opportunities for solution providers, Microsoft channel chief Gavriella Schuster said in an interview with CRN USA.
Among the new opportunities discussed by Schuster include Windows Virtual Desktop, which simplifies the deployment of virtual desktops while providing a less expensive licensing model, and Azure Synapse Analytics, a combination offering of data warehousing and big data analytics.
Schuster also spoke about the expansion of ongoing opportunities such as data centre migrations to Azure, as well as opportunities around security and Microsoft 365.
Ultimately, "we couldn't do this without the ecosystem that surrounds us and the tremendous success of our partners," said Schuster, who is corporate vice president for Microsoft's One Commercial Partner organisation.
What follows is an edited portion of the conversation with Schuster.
What are the opportunities for partners with Windows Virtual Desktop?
I used to run our Windows commercial business for the client, back in the mid-2000s, when VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure] was hot. And I remember the struggle that we had, which was, I know people really want to deliver this 'desktop anywhere,' and they want to be able to be more agile for their users. But VDI is super expensive and I don't know how it's ever going to be affordable for people. Windows Virtual Desktop is exactly that—it is finally the affordable answer to what VDI tried to be so many years ago. And so it enables partners to deliver desktop-as-a-service, which is something that we've done for a number of years through RDS, through Citrix. But it was still a limited experience. It really wasn't the true desktop that somebody would experience on their PC. That is the opportunity—this is something customers have wanted for more than a decade. And the partners can now deliver that without all of that heavy capital investment on their part. We're making that a manageable thing for them.
When you think about what that means for a customer, it means that they can get a 70 percent savings on their infrastructure costs, they can get a 60 percent savings on their licensing costs, and they can get a 60 percent savings on the delivery of those desktops and the management of those desktops on labor. Many of our partners have quite honestly had this as their business for a long time, but just not in such a cost-effective way. When they can go to their customers and say, ‘This is the value proposition I can deliver to you, this is the savings that I can deliver to you’—that becomes a really no-brainer sale. What they're able to do is not only get a high level of profitability—in managing those desktops on behalf of the customer—but also turn a lot of the savings for the customer into additional services that they can now deliver over and above that desktop delivery, like with Microsoft 365 and other services. And then they can add in other applications and services that they can do at a much better cost because they're delivering the whole desktop. So what I've heard from our partners is, 'Wow, you guys are really underplaying this, because we think this is one of the biggest opportunities you have.’ And so, I see a number of partners really going hard after this, and turning a good business on it.
Are partners also getting revenue from Azure consumption as a part of Windows Virtual Desktop? How does that work?
Absolutely. The Windows Virtual Desktop sits on Azure, and so, yes, they're getting multiples of investments from Microsoft. They get multiples of recognition and goodness from our sellers when they bring that into a customer. And then they get to really manage the customer's entire infrastructure as well as the desktop environment.
And again, if within that desktop they're also delivering Microsoft 365 and a lot of those services, and even like some of the analytics or Power BI—that's more upsell that they can encapsulate into the desktop delivery to the customer. And because the customer saves so much on the delivery of the desktop in the first place, they're basically still doing it for less than what the customer [expected].
What are your top goals for the Cloud Solution Provider program in the coming year?
Our top goals are that more and more of our partners move into CSP. And the obvious reason is that it is where all of our cloud services are delivered. It's a much easier experience and a better management system for them when they think about delivering licenses and services together to their customers. And we're pouring a lot into making that experience good for them, so that they can have that subscription experience and really migrate their business away from traditional on-premise business into a cloud servicing business.
We've made a number of new enhancements to let them continue to do that, which we just announced in November. We've given them the ability to access the universal catalog with our latest Azure services, that's consistent across all channels—so that there isn't this strange delta between what does Microsoft offer if you bought through web direct or through an EA [Enterprise Agreement], versus what you'd buy through CSP. So they're all the same. We've helped them expand their portfolio of services to the latest innovations of Azure as soon as they become available, which helps us and them to get things to market much quicker. And then we've connected this in through the marketplace that enables them to pull through ISV services—as they're selling Microsoft's first party they can also then sell other third-party services that are out in our marketplace offering. And we offer them an additional incentive to pull through those third-party services.
And then, we made improvements to the Azure Lighthouse capabilities, which helps them to do better managed services for their customers, as well as some additional Azure cost management tooling. That really continues to be the No. 1 ask from them—to help them with the tools to monitor, allocate and optimize the cloud costs for their customers, so that they can actually be the hero as they optimise a customer's environment.
I know there's been an effort to show that Microsoft 365 is more than just a bundle—are you seeing that message starting to resonate?
This year we finally have the solutions and technologies that come together in a way that moves it to actual technical value and technical architecture for the customer. The partners are seeing that—the ability for them to not just have a series of things that are bundled, but that there's a ton of value when they utilize Microsoft security solutions across a customer's environment, when they are utilizing the compliance management tooling. And then, the opportunity within Teams to bring a lot of the background to the fore with PowerApps. And then with Windows Virtual Desktop, which really is the packaging behind it that enables them to really manage and deliver the entire desktop experience. So they have this option, which is, ‘Do I want to deliver an application experience, or do I want to deliver a desktop experience?’ The ability of Microsoft 365 with all of those components in it, with deep integration between them and elimination a lot of the seams that used to exist—I've heard a lot of tremendous stories from our partners about their success with customers, and how easy it was. I think at this point, because many of them are at the beginning of doing some of these implementations, they're just surprised at how easy it is to make that full delivery.
Do you see Azure Synapse as a new partner opportunity also?
That really goes back to what I see is one of the biggest opportunities around data. What partners are doing with their customers today is they're bringing together all of the disparate data sources that most customers have into these data lakes, and then helping to apply a set of analytics over that. And so Azure Synapse really enables them to give this unmatched time-to-data-insights, and gives them the technology to work with that in a much easier fashion than they have before. There are many partners who have added data and analytics into their practices because it applies to almost anything that they're doing. If you're a Dynamics partner, then delivering on all of the analytics was more of a natural step for you. But we found many of our Azure partners also went into data practices, and now do a lot of Power Platform/Power BI delivery. Synapse on the back end really helps them accelerate that and fly over that data in easier ways. I'm very excited about that opportunity. And then even Microsoft 365 partners who have traditionally focused on M365 using the Office Graph have a ton of data that then they have to work through. This enables them actually to step back into building out greater data lakes and applying Azure Synapse across that as well.
Overall, what would you say are the biggest opportunities for Microsoft partners in the coming year?
When I think about our big four opportunities for our partner ecosystem in the year ahead, [first] it really comes down to security, and helping our partners really drive and deliver the trusted cloud, and be the secure partner ecosystem that customers expect. Then, there’s the opportunity around the modern workplace and a new way of working with Teams, coupled with the opportunity behind that with Windows Virtual Desktop. Then, the data and AI service delivery that we just talked about. And then, skilling—this year, skilling is probably top of mind for all of us. That's both within Microsoft—we have huge skills initiatives for our own employees. And we have it out with our customers—we've invested over US$100 million into the market to help train partners and customers. And then, with our partners. We have trained over 1.4 million people within our partner ecosystem and had over 80,000 new certifications this fiscal year.
There have been a lot of opportunities this year with Microsoft products reaching end-of-life—is there anything about the next phase that partners should be thinking about?
Our partners have been doing a great job helping our customers to modernize their environments, to make a lot of those moves into the cloud. There's been a lot of massive data centre migrations. That was probably the thing that propelled us in in our first [fiscal] quarter—some of those data centre migrations. And so we're in the midst of that with many of our partners. We roll up our sleeves one by one, and help them do the lift with the customer and help them lift some of their own data centres as well. I think that we're making good progress on that. It's a long tail. But I'm excited because I think many of the partners that started that journey probably two years ago with their customers are finding that now they're in the very midst of that modernization of the customer's whole environment. And they're helping their customers actually re-platform those applications, eliminate a lot of the older ones, and implement them with newer versions or cloud-based versions of those applications.
That's what we've seen on our ISV ecosystem—we've seen a tremendous growth for our ISVs because customers are turning toward the newer cloud versions of their solutions. All in all, it really enables us to surround our customers with a modern ecosystem—an ecosystem that's setting them up for these things that they're going to encounter in the future, where the technology becomes their business, not just runs their business.